Tim Burton has had a stellar career as a Director. Hits such as his ‘Batman’ films, ‘Beetlejuice’ and scores of others have cemented his place in modern cinema history. Where he works best is in developing his own stories with his unique visual flair and also embellishing other classic tales. ‘Dumbo’ finds him walking a safe path with a story based on the 1941 classic Disney animated film. His strengths in crafting dazzling visions is still evident with ‘Dumbo’ sure to appeal to those allowing themselves to be free of adult cynicism.

Although injured during battle in World War 1, Holt (Colin Farrell) eagerly returns to the circus run by Max (Danny DeVito). With a wife and young children to look after, Holt dives into his job as caretaker with gusto. When a baby elephant is born, his world is turned upside down when he discovers it can fly via its huge ears. Named Dumbo, the elephant captures the imagination of circus-goers as well as the attention of nefarious entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton). Rapidly events spin out of control as Dumbo’s presence causes as much mayhem as any spirited circus act.

‘Dumbo’ is a lesser piece of the Burton canon. Although serviceable as a slice of family entertainment, as a Tim Burton film it falters. This isn’t the fault of the performers who all give spirited renditions of their cartoonish characters. Keaton and Eva Green as his character’s co-conspirator-in-mischief in particular have much fun. What comes unstuck is Burton’s inability to fully put his stamp within the confines of the Disney formula. Occasionally his flair for the darkly dramatic is seen but his creative edges have been blunted in order to appease Disney’s well oiled machine.

Giving ‘Dumbo’ its visual gloss is the spectacular CGI. The rendering of Dumbo is very well realized and makes it feel like fleshed out character itself. The screenplay is fitting although it strays into mawkish sentiment too often to be totally effective. But when it dares to sour, then ‘Dumbo’ truly flies in every sense. It captures a sense of child-like wonder without being childish which is something not many do. Whilst Burton has done far better, it’s difficult to imagine any other director doing a better job with the material, so kudos to him for at least trying.

A mark of a good movie is if it stays with you after the credits roll. ‘Dumbo’ doesn’t do that but it should please undemanding viewers wanting a predictable story with little thought required. ‘Dumbo’ achieves that with the hope Tim Burton has another good movie left in him more compelling than seeing an elephant fly.

Rating out of 10: 6


For those of a ‘certain age’, ‘Shazam!’ would be very familiar. A popular staple of Saturday morning TV in the 1970’s, the live-action ‘Shazam!’ series gained a generation of fans. Although its special effects were rubbery as well as the performances, it had a rough charm. The new movie version has a budget the TV show could only have dreamt about. Based on the comic-book which was created in 1939, ‘Shazam!’ is a light-hearted romp with virtuous heroes looking mighty even while wearing spandex.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a teenage orphan living with is foster family in Fawcett City. Travelling home on a train, he is mysteriously transported to another dimension where he meets an ancient wizard who bestows upon him god-like powers. When uttering the wizard’s name – Shazam – Billy turns into the like-named hero (Zachary Levi). His transformation comes just in time as he faces the vile evil of industrialist Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong). Billy/Shazam goes to great lengths to prove his worth as earth’s newest hero in the never-ending battle for justice.

Although it has its problems, ‘Shazam!’ is good fun. Only those with continuously dour dispositions would frown at its antics. Shazam is basically a child trapped in a man’s body learning the hard way the value of loyalty and using his powers for good. Whilst the word ‘journey’ may elicit groans, the screenplay pushes Billy on a road to discovery to be the person he is whilst dealing with various heroics.

The performances are on point with Angel and Levi successfully conveying the same personalities in different bodies. Their co-stars are fine without being particularly memorable. Letting events down is David F. Sandberg’s slack direction and glacial pacing. Too much time is spent on setting up Shazam’s skill developments with the finale taking forever to end. Less is always more as the cliché goes even if the CGI is amazing as ever with the many fight sequences eye-popping in their spectacle.

‘Shazam!’ doesn’t re-invent the superhero wheel and takes too long to tell its tale. As an overview of what has made the character enduring it mostly works. It makes those who grew up watching the TV series feel even more elderly, a power even Shazam didn’t need a wizard to provide.

Rating out of 10: 6